Susan Auerbach, Eisner College Research Fellow
Associate Professor Dr. Susan Auerbach, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Dr. Susan Auerbach has received the 2013-14 College Research Fellowship in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education. Dr. Auerbach's study is entitled: Shaping a New Common Sense of Education Reform: Policy Discourse on 'Parent Trigger' Laws and Turnaround Schools. The research will build on her previous work on parent engagement and school-community relations, extending it in new directions to examine how policy debates frame education reform and the role of parents in reform.
Under parent trigger laws, petitions by a majority of parents at low-achieving schools can force school closures, replacement of staff, or conversion to charter. Significantly, these prescribed solutions for low achievement are the same options promoted for turnaround schools in federal Race to the Top initiatives; thus, the trigger laws encapsulate key Obama Administration reforms. The first trigger law was passed in California in 2010, followed by six other states; more than 20 states are considering similar laws. Efforts to pull the trigger in California schools have typically led to conflict and court battles, with three schools that were able to force a major overhaul set to open in 2013-14.
The laws' symbolic and political importance as a flash point for polarized debates on education reform is indicated by extensive national and local media coverage and commentaries, support by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and a trigger-related feature film, Won't Back Down, that was shown at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2012. Advocates claim that the laws empower disenfranchised parents to ensure quality schools for their children; critics claim the laws have no research base and are a bid for increased privatization through charters and school closures. Not surprisingly, educators have felt threatened by these laws, which have a direct impact on their jobs and the management of public schools; they have begun to push for modifications to allow for more public information and transparency in the conduct of trigger petition campaigns. The campaigns are run by Parent Revolution, an education advocacy organization that is generously funded by groups known for their support of corporate reform, such as the Walton, Broad and Gates foundations. Although Parent Revolution claims that the laws promote educational equity and social justice, model parent trigger legislation that includes an option for school vouchers has been promoted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
This qualitative study uses critical policy, media, and discourse analysis of selected media documents since 2010 to examine how the laws' intents and effects are framed in the media and the ways in which the policy discourse both shapes and is shaped by a new common sense of parent empowerment and reform. The better educators understand how reform is represented in the media, the better prepared we can be to respond to these policies and to proactively shape future public discourse on the public purposes of public schools.